Monday, January 18, 2010

Quarter Four in Books

So! Last week was great. Thank you all for your comments and compliments. Let's talk some more about last year. Here is what I read and listened to in the fourth quarter:

1. State of Fear by Michael Crichton (audio) - This is Crichton's novel about global warming. Published in 2004, it is not at all what you would expect. It is a rocking good novel, with well-drawn characters facing improbable circumstances. But at the end, there is almost a full disk of "author's message". Crichton thought that global warming was exaggerated, at best, and possibly a total hoax. It's a bold stand, and Crichton was certainly no conspiracy monger. It's a fascinating read, and I plan to buy a copy in print to read in addition to the cds.

2. Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris - Second book in the True Blood series, it continues the Sookie Stackhouse story. Again, good fun. Light and fluffy, no heavy lifting here.

3. The City and the City by China Mieville - This book has a weird premise: what if Berlin wasn't separated by a wall at all, but instead by an imaginary dividing line, and all the residents of East and West Berlin had to pretend not to see the other city? That's the basic idea, except of course, it isn't Berlin; it's a made up country, Beszel, but the idea is the same. It's two cities, interlocked, but the citizens of each city have to pretend that they don't see the other city or its residents. Then, a murder happens, and a body is discovered. And a policeman starts investigating. But where did the murder happen? And who was the girl who was murdered? And why was she killed? The novel has a lot of promise, but sadly, what do you really do with a story like this? It doesn't deliver on this promise.

4. Evening Class by Maeve Binchy (audio) - Another fine, sprawling novel by Maeve Binchy. She is totally the master of multi-character epics set in Ireland. This one centers around a group of people taking an evening class to learn to speak Italian. It's an improbable mix of people, each taking the class for a different reason.

5. Le Divorce by Diane Johnson (audio) - There's a movie of this novel that's better than the book, which is rare. Just watch that.

6. The Twins of TriBeCa by Rachel Pine (audio) - A fun tell-all about Miramax studios. Again, pretty light and fluffy, but a fun read.

7. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson - You all already know how much I love this trilogy, but this was such a great ending to the story. I was really worried, because Larsson passed away in the middle of writing the series, and had so much more planned. But this book really wraps things up nicely. The bad guys get theirs and the good guys...well, I can't tell you what happens, now can I? Suffice it to say that although I'm disappointed that there won't be a ten book series as Larsson was planning, the trilogy is satisfyingly complete as it stands now.

8. Barrel Fever by David Sedaris (audio) - I've never been a huge David Sedaris fan, but finding his stuff on audio books has changed that. He does all his own recordings and his essays are so much funnier when he reads them. With that said, though, Barrel Fever was my least favorite of his books on cd. That's because it's half essays and half stories and I just don't find his stories funny at all. They're too weird for me.

9.The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe (audio) - OMG, this book was so good. It was so good I went to the used book store and bought the print book before I finished listening to the cd's because I had checked it out from the library and I couldn't stand the thought of returning it. I lucked out and the used book store had a copy for like $4. I wrote about it before, here, and I will be writing more about it, because it has launched me into book detective mode (don't laugh - it's just for my own amusement). The story is about a serial killer who is traveling across Canada stopping in small towns killing terminally ill people who have contacted him and requested his services. A Detective Inspector, who is the acting police chief in one of those small towns, catches on to what he's doing, and starts to track him. Her name is Hazel Micallef, and she's 61, divorced, needs back surgery, and lives with her mother, the former mayor of their small town. Seriously, I cannot say enough good things about this book, and the sequel cannot be published in America fast enough to suit me. Patience, I does not has it.

10. The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe - Um yeah, I read the print book immediately after I finished listening to the cds. And was disappointed when I finished it. SO SO GOOD.

11. Just One Look by Harlan Coben (audio) - Another twisty, turny great novel by Harlan Coben. In this one, a woman picks up some pictures from the photo developers, and an old photo is stuck in the middle of her roll. It's a shot of five people in their early twenties, and one of the guys looks a lot like her husband. But when she asks her husband about the picture, he says it isn't him. Then, he gets in their minivan and drives away, despite the fact that it's 11:00 at night. When he doesn't come home for 2 days, she starts to investigate.

12. When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris (audio) - Much better than Barrel Fever because there are no stories, this is a delight. On each disk of this book, there was at least one essay that had me in tears I was laughing so hard. Absolutely terrific.

13. Graceland by Chris Abani (audio) - I don't even know how to describe this mess of a book. It's set in Nigeria, and contains many horrors that you might expect a book set in Africa to have. Then, there's childhood rape, sodomy, drug running, human smuggling, and just lots more horror. Maybe it was the fact that I listened to it during the holidays, but I just couldn't take it. Add to that the fact that the author kept trying to sing background music and other random bits of song, which was just distracting, and the fact that the book has a complete cop-out ending, which had to have been set up from the beginning, because it's a play on one of the characters' names.

14. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris (audio) - Really awesome. Contains the uber-famous Santaland Diaries, which are great. Very short, but very very funny.

15. The Blind Assassin by Maragret Atwood - I have so much to say about this book that I don't even know where to start. The story is great, and the characters are even better. The focus is on Iris and Laura Chase, sisters and the lives and choices they make. The structure of the novel is unusual, beginning with Laura's death, which may or may not have been intentional, then plunging into The Blind Assassin, a novel written by Laura before she died and published by Iris after Laura died. Interspersed with chapters from the novel are newspaper articles about the deaths of Iris' husband Richard and daughter Aimee. Finally, after several more chapters of the novel-within-a-novel, Iris begins narrating. I absolutely loved this novel and I will be writing more about it very soon.

16. Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris - A change from the True Blood series, this series seems a little more serious. Harper is a weaker character, more reliant on her brother than Sookie is on anyone. Still, a mostly fluffy read.

17. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood - A creepy, semi-apocalyptic tale (paging Shauna!) that still manages to retain its human element. In the future, all second (and up) marriages have been declared illegal, and broken up. The women from those who have had children have been placed in well-to-do homes as handmaids to produce children for the wealthy men and women who can't have children. Which means that they live in these homes and have sex with the husband of the family once a month, hoping to get pregnant. This, of course, makes them tremendously popular with the wife of the family. *snort* And the man. And, basically, everyone. So it's not very cheerful, but it does retain its humanity. And it has a compelling plot, so there's that. I really liked it, and I didn't really expect to. I liked The Blind Assassin better, but a lot of that is character development.

18. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - In structure, this book is unusual because it is 13 stories instead of one big novel. It reminded me of Spoon River Anthology, in the way that each story was about someone different, or a family (the English majors love me now!). Through it all is Olive Kitteridge and her long-suffering husband, Henry. Some stories are directly about them, but most are at least in part about someone else, and only peripherally about Olive and Henry. And I think I've said how much I loved this novel.


Fiona Picklebottom said...

I read State of Fear and enjoyed it. I would've SWORN I read Just One Look, but it doesn't sound familiar, so maybe I need to check into that. Other than that, a lot there sounds good, I'll have to get reading...

Shelly said...

Fiona - Yeah, I loved State of Fear. I really liked Just One Look - the lady was in an addident, too, crushed at a rock concert. That may jog your memory. Hope you're doing well!

Anonymous said...

Geez I wish I could read as much as you do, even audio!

Shelly said...

Shelly - Heh. Yeah, that 2 hours in the car a day really helps! And I read A LOT over the holidays. I finished Blind Assassin, then read Grave Sight, Handmaid's Tale, and Olive Kitteridge all between 12/23 and 12/31.

Kate said...

Oh great. Now I have like 10 more books on my list.

Hahaha! Thanks for the reviews.

Shelly said...

Kate - hope you love them!